Dodge City Then and Now: Part IV

It’s really hard to post a side-by-side of an old postcard and a recent photo and just move on to the next one. I end up going down a rabbit hole on each one and want to know everything about everything and then my dog wants to know why he hasn’t eaten yet.

It’s also depressing to look at all the interesting architecture that has been lost so I’m making a point of including buildings we’ve treated well and can still enjoy.

Carnegie Library Building

701 N Second Avenue

No disrespect to the Lora Locke, which I also love, but this is the prettiest building in Dodge. My grandmother, Irene Beeson, took me there several times when I was anywhere from four to nine years old and I remember thinking it was so small. Like, it’s a super cool building but it definitely isn’t large. I remember walking through when it was being renovated prior to opening as the Carnegie Center for the Arts and it just really looked like a lot of work.

That was nothing compared to the work that went into making a public library in Dodge City a thing.

The ladies of Dodge City started working on this *at least* as early as 1905. I would bet the idea was bounced around for quite a while before it became an organized effort.

The Globe-Republican, January 12, 1905

It wasn’t as simple as getting Andrew Carnegie to foot the bill for the building. Municipalities were also required to have a maintenance fund amounting to at least ten percent of the construction cost. That meant winning taxpayer support for a permanent levy. Nothing in the history of the world has changed. People were outraged that the library would be free to use for those who didn’t own property. The letters to the editor were just as intense as the crap you see today and the issue went before voters in 1905.

The Globe-Republican, March 23, 1905

Voters approved the levy and Carnegie agreed to provide $7,500 for construction of the new library, meaning Dodge City had to raise at least $750 for the maintenance fund. Between all the private fundraisers and tax receipts, they were able to raise $850 and Carnegie approved a total gift of $8,500.

The Library Board selected the site of the old “Public School” at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Spruce Street. Here’s the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the school.

Architect CW Squires delivered plans and the Library Board requested bids in August of 1905. My great-great grandfather, Chalk Beeson, was a Kansas Representative at the time and he was never shy about talking up the big things happening in Dodge.

The Journal-Democrat, September 29, 1905

Unfortunately, supply chains happen and construction was delayed several times due to long lead times for materials. The building was scheduled for completion in August of 1906 and then this happened.

The Globe-Republican, August 30, 1906

Even with all of the headaches, construction of the building was completed in September of 1906.

The Globe-Republican, September 27, 1906

That may have been a tiny bit premature. The building was finally turned over to the Library Board in October before electric fixtures were even installed. There was also some interior finishing that needed to be done and the whole thing had to be furnished. They hadn’t even selected a librarian at that time. By the end of November, they were still waiting for the bookshelves to be delivered.

The public was “expected” to attend the grand opening in February of 1907 and they were still waiting for the actual books to be delivered. People had donated hundreds of books but that wasn’t going to cut it.

The Journal-Democrat, January 25, 1907

The first librarian was Iva Nelson and her salary of $30 per month included janitorial services. Library hours were 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Here is the 1911 Sanborn map showing the library building. Information about Carnegie Center for the Arts can be found here.

Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company

300 Second Avenue

You’ll note in the photo I took a couple weeks ago, the most recent retaining wall and ramp are still there. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when things were happening there and being a passenger in a truck driving up that ramp seemed like the scariest thing in the world. I’m not sure if I was even in kindergarten yet and it just seemed really narrow and steep. Looking at it now makes me laugh.

Construction began in 1907 on a facility that expanded and contracted operations many times over the decades.

The Journal-Democrat, March 8, 1907
The Globe-Republican, March 12, 1908
The Journal-Democrat, August 14, 1908

Here’s the 1911 Sanborn map showing the mill with its rail siding, forge, oil tank, engine, scales, dust collector, etc.

The 1918 Sanborn map is very colorful! Dodge City Flour Mills had expanded quite a bit and was pretty damn high tech.

It’s strange to me that they had a phone number listed in their 1908 advertisement but not in the county or city directories. Even into the 1960s, I never saw a phone number for them listed in a directory.

Etrick’s 1924 Ford County Directory

By 1926, the layout hadn’t changed much but the Sanborn map shows more detail.

It should be no surprise that fire was an ongoing concern due to the dust generated by handling grain and milling flour.

The Hutchinson News-Herald, April 4, 1949

The Wichita Eagle, April 5, 1949
The Northwestern Miller, April 5, 1949

So that last one pretty much said it. They had no plans to rebuild the mill. One thing I found interesting was a report that firefighters were delayed by a freight train. So I guess that means the fire station south of the bridge either wasn’t open yet or wasn’t enough due to the size of the blaze.

I don’t remember why we went there when I was a kid. The door at the top of the ramp was open and people were there doing things. I guess the undamaged buildings were used for warehousing? Not sure if the elevators were used after the fire. It was always just a big behemoth sitting there along the tracks…until it wasn’t.

First Presbyterian Church

803 Central Avenue

My great-great grandmother, Ida Beeson, taught Sunday School here and was instrumental in the building’s construction in 1924. I believe Chalk even taught a class or two at the previous site, which must have been interesting. After Chalk died, Ida bought a house at 705 Central Avenue, which is now part of the Landmark National Bank parking lot. Super convenient for Sundays!

Post Office 

700 Central Avenue

This is another example of a slow process. It’s obvious by looking at the design that this building is relatively new. Construction was completed in 1931 and I still roll my eyes every time I see the name of a Treasury Secretary etched onto a cornerstone. Like, come ON.

But the process began all the way back in 1926, which was a completely different world. At least financially.

The Southwest News, December 30, 1926

In addition to run-on sentences of epic proportions, that last paragraph is a sight to behold. Anyhoo, this gem from 1930 is extremely confusing.

The Dodge City Journal, December 18, 1930

Rather than try to determine how the sausage was made, here are a couple postcards showing the old Weather Bureau building, which was demolished to build the new Post Office.

If you look at the 1926 Sanborn map for the site, you’ll have a better understanding of what all was in play. The jail was next to the Weather Bureau and the new building wouldn’t fit without tearing down the jail as well.

Also, here’s the 1926 Sanborn map showing the Post Office building at 612 Second Avenue which was in use while this debate was taking place.

Prior to that location, the 1911 Sanborn map shows a “PO” at Second Avenue and Walnut (Gunsmoke) Street. I believe that would be the building below.

They finally got the show on the road in March of 1931.

The Morning Chronicle (Manhattan, Kansas), March 7, 1931

I would say this stylish beauty was worth the wait.

Speaking of wait…a minute…please don’t tell me this “modernization” project had anything to do with the soul-crushing paneling that was hung in the box alcove and behind the counter. Gross.

The Salina Journal, May 26, 1964

Next time, I’ll take a look at a couple Dodge City schools. Until then, you can check out Parts I through III below:

Part I – First National Bank Building

Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel

Part III – Merritt Beeson House

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!

Dodge City Then and Now: Part V

When will this series end? When I say it ends.

Last time, I promised a school post. As a former wearer of the “Proud to be in 443!” merch, I have strong opinions about Dodge City schools. I attended the same elementary school as my mom and my grandmother…Go Bobcats! I even had the same fifth grade teacher as my mom and boy was she surprised by my interest in, well, school.

I’m not getting into all of the historic school buildings because nobody has time for that. Dodge has done a terrific job with some of them. If you contrast the updates/additions at Central Elementary with the tragedy of Lincoln Elementary, it kind of makes your head swim. I don’t want to speculate about motivations but certain areas of town get the good stuff, if you know what I mean.

My intention was to simply admire the architecture but as I started digging into the details, I found the process was very similar to how things work (or don’t) today. We tend to romanticize the past and assume our dysfunction is a modern invention. I don’t know if it will make you feel better or worse but everything was as big of a soup sandwich then as it is now. Get comfortable; this will take a minute.

Dodge City High School

1000 (North) Second Avenue

I understand why this building had to come down but I’m not happy about it. The original high school structure was built in 1914. The 1918 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows a pretty basic footprint with steam heat and electric lights. I mention this because in 1918, the East Side School (later renamed First Ward School) at Avenue G and East Vine Street still operated with stoves for heat and no lights according to Sanborn.

The 1911 Sanborn map shows dwellings in the 1000 block of Second Avenue.

The 1926 Sanborn map shows a 1916 addition at the back of the lot that didn’t appear on the map in 1918 as well as a large addition on the north end of the building in 1923. That 1923 addition is the reason for the drastically different appearances in the postcard photos above. It wasn’t just a matter of camera angles!

Prior to the 1886-87 school year, all grades were taught in the same school on Boot Hill. That all changed with the new school on the “east side” of town. The article below references Bridge Street as the dividing line, which was later renamed Second Avenue. So when you look at Dodge now, it’s pretty damned central but back then, not so much.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, September 7, 1886

This change meant that all high school students were instructed at the Second Ward School, which was located at Railroad (Central) Avenue and Division Street as shown on the 1887 Sanborn map. The first commencement of Dodge City High School was held June 10, 1887 at McCarty’s Opera House for a graduating class of three students.

Dodge City schools have pretty much always been overcrowded. So two years after sending high school students to the new building, Superintendent Webb announced they would be instructed at the corner of Second Avenue and Cedar Street.

Ford County Republican, August 29, 1888

*record skips* Where? The 1887 Sanborn map shows dwellings and a vacant building at that corner, as does the 1892 Sanborn. The “school room” must have been that vacant building? There were 25 students enrolled in high school for the 1888-89 school year.

The 1889-90 school year was a trip. The original Third Ward School opened in 1880 at the top of Boot Hill was condemned, leaving a bunch of students displaced. So the high schoolers were pushed out of the vacant building and into rooms above Mrs. Beadle’s store.

Ford County Republican, August 28, 1889

According to Robert Marr Wright, the original school cost $6,300 to build and the roof was already leaking a year after completion. After five years, it was braced by rods. High school students were back at the new Third Ward School for the 1890-91 school year.

By the 1898-99 school year, the high school room was packed with 67 students. The idea of forming a county high school had been discussed periodically over the years and my great-great grandfather introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature in 1903.

The Globe-Republican, February 12, 1903

If any of you remember the ongoing debates in Dodge for decades about building what ended up being that godforsaken abomination they call a high school on Ross Boulevard, then you can imagine the drama leading up to this special election. Side note: I’m still amazed that the brain trust lowered the speed limit on North 14th Avenue to 35 because a new school on that street was a foregone conclusion.

The Bucklin Banner, May 8, 1903

The proposition was defeated and the entire county continued arguing about it until the school board accepted plans for a new building in 1912.

Voters approved the $44,000 bond issue in November of 1912 after finally being convinced the district was losing students to towns like Bucklin and Spearville, which both had dedicated high school buildings with adequate space. The vote tally was 730 for and 214 against. Residents immediately began arguing over the location, naturally. The architect couldn’t create final plans until they decided on a site and needed 60 days lead time to deliver. Meanwhile, the expectation was to have the new building ready for the next school year in September of 1913. Hilarious.

Remember my snark about the speed limit on 14th? The School Board got out over their skis in 1912 and paid $2,000 for a lot at Sixth Avenue and Division Street (Trinity Hospital site) before anything had been formalized. Initially, two sites were under consideration: A lot at Fifth Avenue and Oak Street and the Second Ward School site where Central Elementary is today. As the debate continued, some people wanted the school to be on Boot Hill. In December, the citizens’ committee (because there always is one) suggested a list of eight to ten properties and most of them were on “upper” Second Avenue. By this time, the lot owners had started raising the prices so the City started talking about condemning the properties. Then the board began arguing amongst themselves and people questioned the legality of the Sixth Avenue purchase. See? Nothing has changed!

At their January 22 meeting, the School Board voted to use the lot they purchased on Sixth Avenue and then there was an injunction a couple days later. By March, the Kansas Legislature was determining whether Dodge could vote (again) to build a $60,000 building rather than the $44,000 that initially passed because the architect told them they would have to scale back their plans for the lower amount. There were questions about the legality of the original bond election so all the records went to an auditor in Topeka. The election was declared illegal based on a technicality. By the end of May, the School Board was all about a site at Second Avenue and Vine Street. The special election was scheduled for July 1 and voters were asked to approve $58,000 ($8,000 for land and $50,000 for the school). The location was the W 1/2 of Block 55, in the original townsite of the City and Lot G in Shinn’s Addition. Sigh…FINALLY. Block 55 is the property at Second Avenue and Elm Street.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, June 17, 1913

Clowns! If you think this is a tedious read, imagine being me right now. Voters, clearly having their shit more together than their local representation, approved the new school…again. Site condemnation was completed on October 21 and it was appraised at $9,600…$1,600 more than voters approved for the land purchase. John and Effie Cord owned one of the lots at the site that included a six-room dwelling and they hired an attorney to protest the $2,300 they were offered. They must have worked it out because I never found any evidence this went to court. Bids were requested for people to buy all buildings on the lots and have them removed. On December 11, 1913, bids were requested to finally build the damn thing.

And THEN everyone learned all this fiddlefucking around was making everything more expensive.

These absolute dolts couldn’t find their asses with both hands.

The Dodge City Globe, February 14, 1914

The Board’s expectations are pretty rich considering how long they played grab-ass with this project.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, March 13, 1914

Because the plans had to be altered to avoid going over budget, the School Board immediately went back to the well asking for more money to build the gym and auditorium. They insisted “a two mill levy for three or four years would supply the necessary fund for completion of the splendid building.” – The Dodge City Daily Globe, March 17, 1914

The election was scheduled for April 7, 1914. The turnout was very light and the proposition passed. Voters must have been as tired of thinking about it as I am. The contractor insisted the building would be complete enough for use in January of 1915.

Students were given an extra week off for Christmas break so they could start the new year in their new school but they were forced to wait yet again. And again. Finally, the four high school grades plus seventh and eighth graders moved in to their new digs in March of 1915.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, March 26, 1915

It’s cool how that $44,000 building voters were promised turned into $85,000. They always get you in the drive-thru.

THE SOU’WESTER, Volume Two, Nineteen Fifteen

The new high school building served Dodge City well as a school and as the headquarters for our school district. Even as its configurations changed over time, it still felt very grand inside. Paneling and small framed-in windows could never completely diminish its impressive architecture.

Next time, I’ll dig into the next Dodge City (Senior) High School. Until then, you can check out Parts I through IV below:

Part I – First National Bank Building

Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel

Part III – Merritt Beeson House

Part IV – Carnegie Library Building, Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company, First Presbyterian Church, Post Office

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!

Dodge City Then and Now: Part III

As we prepare for our return to the desert, I am rushing to make sure I gather all the local information I need while I can still ask for it in person. There are photos I swear I took that are MIA, probably forever. Some of them belong in this post.

At the end of Part II, I promised the next one would be a heartbreaker. I still don’t 100% understand all the myriad ways things went sideways but I loved this house and was so psyched about spending my teen years in the same bedroom my grandmother once occupied.

Merritt Beeson House (The Big House)

My great-grandfather, Merritt Beeson, began construction of his home south of Dodge City in 1910 and it was quite an ambitious project. The blocks used to build the house came from a sand pit on the Beeson Farm. To say Merritt overengineered the house would be an understatement. It was a big beast and it was built to last.

Each of the three bedrooms had a lavatory and a walk-in closet. Those were features that mattered to me as a teenager and I’m still impressed by Merritt’s foresight. I’m also still impressed by the walk-in cedar closet inside the door going up to the attic.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, September 30, 1910

The house was finished in 1911 and Merritt lived there with his daughter, Betty, until he married my great-grandmother, Beth, in 1913. They hosted a state gun club shooting tournament at the house in 1914 and expected 100 shooters and their families to visit. Four sets of automatic traps were set up on the east side of the house for maximum visibility from the upstairs windows and rear balcony.

In 1917, Merritt volunteered to host area WWI troops needing a place to camp temporarily while they waited for supplies and vaccinations before proceeding to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Betty would have been 10 years old at that time and I can only imagine how exciting she would have found having actual soldiers staying with them. They called the site Camp Beeson.

Dodge City Daily Globe, August 24, 1917

My grandmother, Irene, was born in 1921 and she was a big fan of the house as a child. There was a playroom right next door to her bedroom and she had all sorts of critters to keep her company.

Irene Beeson in the backyard, facing west

Merritt and Beth were very active in the community and received visitors constantly, even before turning the house into an official museum.

Irene with Kathleen Gleason (center) and Ida Beeson (right) and the dining room Dutch window in the background

As the Beeson Museum collection grew, Irene’s enthusiasm waned. She described to me the tedium of cleaning the exhibits, especially when the Dust Bowl was in full force.

The Beeson Museum collection inevitably outgrew the house so it moved to another location on South Second Avenue in 1950 along with Merritt, Beth, and Irene. Betty moved into The Big House with her husband, Red Miller, and their children, Mike and VeeAnn.

Merritt and VeeAnn next to the small shed, Summer of 1950

Betty went to work right away transforming the former museum back into a proper family home.

After Betty’s death in 1956, Red moved the kids to a house near the sand pit and The Big House went to the Good Samaritan Society to be used as a nursing home. A ramp was added to the back porch. A commercial kitchen was added in the basement as well as a dumb waiter. Solid oak doors at the nurses’ stations were cut in half. A hallway was cut between the two south bedrooms and the French doors in each bedroom were eliminated in favor of a single door in the center leading to what was originally an open balcony. It wasn’t long before they ran out of room and attached a long, skinny brick wing to the west side of the house. The front porch was bricked in using the same material as the new addition.

As laws and building codes evolved, the house became severely outdated and was only used for storage. Additional buildings were added to the west end of the site and the house deteriorated. Beginning in 1980, I walked past The Big House twice a day on my way to and from school for five years. I spent a ton of time with Irene during those years and I asked a million questions about that house. She shared tons of photos (many included here) and told me so many wonderful stories about living there. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to live there.

The bricked-in front porch assaulted the senses.

The Big House served as a haunted house for several Halloweens and what a trip THAT was. I really hate haunted houses but it was hard to pass up an opportunity to go inside Merritt’s home and just be near recent family history.

My parents apparently shared my fascination because we actually began trying to save it in the late 1980s. The Dodge City Good Samaritan Center agreed to portion off the area of the house and its crazy appendage while we figured out what the hell to do next. Omg the pigeons! And the bedpans! And wheelchairs! And sugar dispensers! We spent so much time dragging discarded equipment out of the house and the addition. We had yard sales. We had a huge dumpster. It was so much freaking work.

The house had a fragillion windows and the majority had been boarded up and left to rot.

The boiler in the basement was an issue. Trying to figure out how to demo that addition without damaging the house was an issue. Asbestos was an issue. That freaking roof! A guy had died working on the original tile roof not long after it was built. It was super high and super steep and he slid right the hell off the damn thing.

But the walk-in cedar closet still smelled like cedar and the house was still super solid. The layout was incredibly functional. It had the right amount of space and the right amount of separation. It was cold inside even when it was hot outside. The Big House may have been a hot mess but it was still wonderful and we loved it.

Unfortunately, it had been allowed to sit for too long. Vandalism and weather created problems that were just too expensive to fix. In today’s climate, it might be possible to obtain grant funding for such a historic property but it was a different time and Dodge City is a small town for such an expensive project.

By 1992, the site was subdivided to include an L-shaped City Park named the Beeson Arboretum that ran along the east and south sides of the property. The money in the escrow account from the yard sales and such went toward developing the park. And The Big House just sat there taking more and more abuse.

Ultimately, demolition was the only solution but the old girl didn’t go down without a fight. My dad sat and watched this horrible end to such a wonderful and well-loved home. He said the crew had trouble with all that damn rebar mentioned in the 1910 newspaper article and I was proud that Merritt didn’t make it easy for them a century later.

Demolition photos courtesy of Norman Holladay

The only visible reminders of Merritt’s home are the garage and some of his beloved evergreen trees.

If you ever find yourself driving down Beeson Road with a few moments to spare, stop at the Beeson Arboretum (southwest corner of Beeson and Sunnyside) and enjoy the view.

While you’re here, check out Part I and Part II of my book research detour. I’ll get back to Otero’s Odyssey (not the title) post haste.

Dodge City Then and Now: Part II

My hometown leaned ALL the way in to Urban Renewal and basically ruined the most historic parts of the town. Trends are slow to arrive in Dodge City and by the time our “leaders” started demolishing history, most of the country had already realized this is a piss-poor approach. It’s like sidewalks in Dodge…the people who need to use them don’t and they just assume no one else does either. But thanks for trying to run over the dog and me…really.

This little gem doesn’t go into a lot of detail but sums the situation up quite well. Most questions about Dodge City that begin with “Why” are answered with “Urban Renewal.” Fortunately, lessons have been learned and there is now an appreciation for not only property rights but also history other than the Old West. One day, we’ll talk about Ford County property taxes ruining people’s lives but today is not that day.

Today’s photos are a mix of the good and the bad.

First Baptist Church

This building isn’t particularly old but I grew up looking at it every day of every summer for most of my childhood in jail at Kiddie Corner (with another K?). Anyway, I’m a fan. The postcard colorization on the left is pretty intense. I don’t think grass has ever been that green here.

Walnut Street Looking West from Central Avenue

I’ve entered all of the Dodge City street name changes in Excel because it’s impossible to remember them all. Walnut became Gunsmoke, Chestnut became Wyatt Earp, North and South Front Streets were demolished and now something called Front Street runs through parking lots, etc. and so on. So the postcard on the left is from the 1960s and I took the photo on the right a couple weeks ago. It looks basically the same but the gigantic Masonic Temple on the left wayyyy down the block is long gone. You can still see the old Chalk Beeson Theater (MUCH more on that later) at the end of the block on the left side of *Walnut*. The marquee is missing from the Dodge Theater on the right side of the street but the buildings are otherwise intact until you get to First Avenue.

Masonic Temple

Construction on this marvel began in 1907 and was completed in 1908. There were so many bricks lined up along the street that one of the newspapers ran a piece joking that visitors from out of town asked if they were building the Great Wall of China.

The Journal-Democrat, October 25, 1907

I think the initial cost estimate was around $26,000 but it ended up in the neighborhood of $36,000 and I can only imagine the grandeur of the third floor. They had a special carpet sewn in Kansas City that cost about $4.00 per yard and the room was enormous. The building had no trouble attracting commercial tenants and was in use for several decades.

Etrick’s Directory of Ford County 1920

Here’s the 1926 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. It was a beast!

Why is it no longer there? Urban Renewal! It didn’t survive the 1960s and the land was later donated by former Dodge City Daily Globe publisher (and daughter of Jess Denious) Martha Elizabeth “Betty” Muncy for Eisenhower Park, which was established in 1976.

First Avenue Looking South

Standing in the middle of First Avenue is not an option so it’s difficult to recreate the perspective of the postcard on the left without a drone. That’s clearly the Masonic Temple across First Avenue from the Chalk Beeson Theater and the old flour mill in the postcard background. You can also make out what looks like the old Western Union building behind the theater. Here’s the 1918 Sanborn map for reference.

O’Neal Hotel

Central and what??? Exactly. The parking lot north of the depot looks like a road runs through it because a road used to run through it…all the way east to Avenue B, where it met up with that weird little Chestnut Street jog. Take a look at the 1926 Sanborn map.

The O’Neal Hotel opened in December of 1912 and I can’t think of a better location for the time.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, December 9, 1912

Over time, several buildings were added and can you imagine renting a house of any size for $8.50 per month?

The Dodge City Daily Globe, February 16, 1915

The O’Neal Hotel operated in that spot forever and a day until it, too, was a victim of Urban Renewal. Hotels circle the drain pretty quickly when things start getting seedy and this one was no exception. I’m calling this one a victory, though, because parking in this area would be a nightmare without the City lot.

Next time, I’ll share a real heartbreaker. Until then, you can take a look at Part I.

Help a Researcher Out: Identify These Musicians

My grandmother, Irene, was beyond surprised when she realized she had a granddaughter who was interested in her family’s history. Her parents had a museum that began in their home and later required construction of a larger building to house the exhibits. Most of the collection was sold to another local museum before I was able to get in on the action but she did retain several items of interest.

Some of my earliest memories involved playing with literal museum pieces from the pioneer days on the prairie. I learned how to do a lot of basic activities of daily life using those pieces. Irene had a set of irons in various sizes for pressing different sizes of fabric. So the one you would use to iron bedding would be different from the one for a child’s dress. I remember her showing me how to heat the iron over the fireplace. She gave me some linen handkerchiefs to practice with and despite being as careful as a grade schooler could be, I burned my hand. That led to a First Aid lesson on current burn remedies as well as the methods used by pioneers and how she saw things evolve throughout her life.

Irene was a practical person and she made notes when I expressed interest in a particular photo or piece of china. She made sure I took those items with me when I left for college and I’ve been dragging them around for nearly 30 years. One of those cherished items was a photo of Irene at four years of age with her sister, her grandmother, and her uncle’s girlfriend. I only knew the girlfriend’s first and last names and that she was from California. Her name was relatively common and I didn’t think I stood a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever learning anything more about her.

I began a newspaper search for the girlfriend and was overwhelmed by the number of results found. Then I saw one that listed the correct name with the middle initial V and thought if only I could be so lucky. So I looked into this person with the middle name Veronica and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t her.

Veronica’s father was a retired railroad official who took a job in Long Beach as Vice President for a startup brokerage. He was also an original trustee for the brand-new and totally badass all co-op Sovereign Apartments, where he owned a large flat. The family came from Kansas and lived in Kansas City for a while before moving to California. One of Veronica’s sisters married a well-known Kansas City musician and composer and I recently learned the sister was a musician herself. Now I know how Veronica met my grandmother’s uncle.

The late teens and early 1920s were huge for people in the Kansas City entertainment scene moving to the Los Angeles area. Dr. E M. Hiner was a dentist and celebrated bandleader who had a successful music school and was tight with John Philip Sousa. Dr. Hiner moved to LA in 1919 and ultimately founded the music department at what is now UCLA. His former home on Figueroa Street is included in a tour of historic properties and there is a bandshell dedicated to Hiner and Sousa in a park across the street.

Irene’s uncle moved to LA at the same time as Veronica and her family in 1920. Veronica’s brother-in-law had his own orchestra which was featured in “La Fiesta” at the Million Dollar Theatre. By 1932, he was playing in the RKO Hillstreet Theater Orchestra. As the Great Depression progressed, he found steady work as a WPA musician. His nephew was a Hollywood radio performer who later became an insurance adjuster and convicted jewel thief. I know Irene’s uncle played professionally in the LA area but that’s about all I know. Many of the American Federation of Musicians Local No. 47’s records were destroyed by fire around 1970 so I may never learn more about his career.

For now, I have this band photo taken by Hollywood photographer Albert Witzel.

Although I can make a couple guesses, the only person I can identify with certainty is the gentleman in the back row, third from left. Help me ID any of the others and I’ll buy you a beer…or twelve.

I’ll up the ante if you correctly identify this car.

I don’t think I ask for much but this is turning into the brickiest of brick walls. It really shouldn’t be such a problem. After all, it’s only been 100 years.

Help me out, people. I’ve reached out to nearly everyone I can think of and haven’t received many replies. I’m starting to run out of ideas.

Spouse Resides At: Unknown, But I Have Heard He Died

This was supposed to be a very straightforward project: A book about a ragtime-era trombonist who played with the best musicians of his time. An artist who lived in his famous father’s shadow and whose story has been forgotten. You know how things snowball when you have an old house and think you’re *just* going to change the showerhead? Here I am underneath the house, replacing the entire foundation.

My musician was engaged to a famous florist. The wedding was set and his mother had prepared a room for them at the family home. His mother and brother devised a scheme to pull him away from the fast lifestyle of a professional musician, which worried them both. The brothers would build a theater (dedicated to their father) and the musician would manage it. Instead, the musician learned the florist was cheating on him and called the whole thing off. He secured a letter of introduction from a local orchestra director and left for Los Angeles to play music, leaving his older brother responsible for the theater.

The florist raced to the train station in her night clothes, arriving just as his train was preparing to leave. She pleaded her case but his decision had been made. He left for California and continued his career until about 1940. His only involvement with the family theater was playing in the orchestra from time to time.

So about this florist…

I was hoping to document when and where they met as well as whether or not the other man was merely a fling or something more permanent. She was interviewed many times over the course of nearly five decades in the floral industry and appeared regularly in O. O. McIntyre’s columns. Details about her childhood and early career were published by numerous outlets and for the most part, I can’t verify any of them. What I can verify is a whole bunch of scandalous drama that sure didn’t make it into her New York Times obituary.

Her mother was charged in district court with conducting a house of prostitution. Three years later, the mother’s rooming house was raided by police who suspected she was selling liquor. That’s apparently not all she was selling. Statutory charges were brought against two men aged 50 and 27 in relation to the florist’s 14-year-old sister, who told police the 50-year-old married man had been making monthly visits to her for the past fourteen months. She said he “gave her money and bought her clothing.” The mother told police she thought the man had “a fatherly interest” in the girl. The mother also said her 14-year-old daughter was engaged to the 27-year-old divorced man, who lived in their home. Despite the girl telling police she had met this man only two months prior to his arrest, the judge was told the two “had been engaged for some time.” The same day, the mother signed off on a marriage license between her 14-year-old daughter and this 27-year-old clothing salesman, effectively ending the statutory case.

I looked into the 50-year-old with “fatherly interest” in teenage girls and hoo boy, what a story! He came from a *very* wealthy family and preferred the company of much younger females until the day he died. When he was in his seventies, he shot the husband of a 21-year-old woman he tried to coerce into stripping and dancing for him. This occurred at his home while his wife was in the hospital. He paid the man $8,000 to cover hospital bills but the criminal case was dropped after almost a year of delays. After his wife died, he married a 20-year-old waitress. He was 76 and the young woman divorced him less than five months later, claiming he started drinking at three o’clock in the morning and bragged about affairs with other women.

The florist lied about her marital status on a passport application and was caught by State Department employees who gave her “fatherly advice regarding making an admission of swearing falsely.” In those days, there was a space for female applicants to list the name, address, place of birth, and immigration status of either their father or husband because obviously women needed men to take responsibility for them. So she had declared she was single but was found to be a divorcee. On her corrected application, she listed her spouse’s stage name and wrote “unknown, but I have heard he died” on the address line. Notarized affidavits from people testifying to her identity and her husband’s US citizenship followed. She explained that “she has never seen a divorce decree for the fact that in some Southern State her husband divorced her, but that she never received an official notice from the court.” He remarried and she apparently then heard from friends that he died. Spoiler Alert: He didn’t die until 1954.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on divorce decrees from Husbands One and Two but she was subsequently twice widowed so she must have figured it out somehow. Speaking of figuring things out, the florist’s younger sister couldn’t decide on a husband or which name to use. I thought I would track down relatives to see if anyone has documents, photos, or correspondence tying the florist to the musician. Neither woman had children and both had four husbands. It was a tradition in their family to give children two middle names. The sister used a few variations of her first name on official documents and on her fourth marriage license, skipped her first name altogether in favor of her two middle names along with her maiden name. The state death index, however, shows her given name. Why so shady?

The florist stated in interviews the name of her hometown along with the year she graduated high school and a story about her mother buying her a car to distract her from her obsession with going to Los Angeles to become an actress. I can’t find one record substantiating any of it. She said she used money she unexpectedly inherited from an uncle in England to start her floral business. I’m not finding that either but I do have information about her articles of incorporation and all changes made to the corporate entity until it was dissolved after her death.

The mother’s probate documents and those from her much older second husband are wild. I can’t imagine what his seven children were thinking when they learned he officially made her an heiress and declared his intent to marry her only two months after their own mother died. 

For all the primary source documents I have been able to locate, there are still gaping holes in these women’s histories. I’ve spent hundreds of hours searching, reading, calling, and emailing but I am no closer to discovering a single shred of evidence proving the florist and the musician ever met. It makes me wonder if they ever did meet. Maybe he told his family a story to get them off his back and then it ran its course. Maybe it did happen and he destroyed all evidence in a fit of drunken rage. I really have no idea. What I do know is by the time I’m finally ready to write this thing, I will have enough material to fill five books.

Can We All Agree That Working in an Office Really Sucks?

In the halcyon days of pre-pandemic employment, I was thought a lunatic for requesting to work from home. It was as if the current working arrangement for millions of Americans weren’t a modern invention. There’s this assumption that if you’re at home, you’re lounging around in front of the TV. Excuse me but I’m from Kansas, where working from home often means 12 to 16-hour days.

You want to know what kills my productivity? People. Commuting. Also, people.

There’s this nonfiction book I’ve been trying to write since the early 1990s. The information I needed should have been right in front of me but it wasn’t. It turns out the problem with researching someone who should have been well-known but wasn’t is that people have no idea they even existed. Go figure.

In the early aughts, I used the limited information I had to search every single person, place, and thing I could think of on the internet. Digitization of historical documents was in its infancy, however, so I mostly wound up frustrated and discouraged. The only solution at that time involved a lot of travel, which meant a lot of time away from work during a time when that wasn’t an option. Hiring professional researchers also wasn’t an option so the project ended up in a filing cabinet that was ultimately moved into storage.

I thought for several years I was just like everyone else who is “writing a book.” Even if I could get motivated to finish the damn thing, it isn’t a very interesting story. I’m not a writer. No one cares about this subject. Leave it alone.

Then 2019 happened: I sold my beige stucco box in a suburban HOA. I left a job that was an exercise in futility. I packed up my dogs and headed to Mexico. Burnout is real.

It took a while to decompress and rediscover the art of working for myself. By mid-2020, the world was locked down right as I was ready to pick up my research. As soon as I got back to Tucson this February, I was all about getting those records out of storage and I’ve been obsessed ever since.

Going back to work in a traditional employer/employee scenario seemed like the logical next step but I just couldn’t do it. After researching electoral college talking points for a live hit on my porch overlooking the ocean, you cannot make me sit in a cubicle and tell me I’m not allowed to keep my cell phone on my desk. Tell that shit to a 20-year-old.

Instead, I started a C-Corp and decided to live that freelance life. I could do Human Resources consulting but a little part of my soul just died while typing this sentence. COVID-era HR work literally makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a ballpoint pen. After a few months of working on-site for a client, I’ve pretty much settled on remote-only 4eva.

The past couple years have proven it’s the work environment that kills my creativity and motivation. After 9 hours in the office plus, I dunno, another 45 minutes of commuting time, I’m done with the thinking. The last thing I want to do is break out my laptop and do more work, especially if it involves any kind of focused problem solving. On the flip side, I was up until after 3 am the other night because I had found some really interesting information and couldn’t put it down. The dog got me up at 5:15 for walkies and I was back at it as soon as we got home.

Why work at some meaningless, soul-crushing job reporting to incompetent, narcissistic asshats when you can spend your time getting paid to do something that doesn’t suck? Find a way to monetize the things you enjoy. Check out various freelance platforms; not all of them take a big chunk of your pay. You can create a gig for just about anything and don’t have to leave your house, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Speaking of which, I’m available for the next few weeks if anyone needs a researcher or copy editor. I only charge for my time when accessing subscription databases I already use. Any documents I have to order are billed at my cost. A 24-hour turnaround is usually possible if it’s a simple request. If you want me to compile your entire family tree, that’s another story. I can also provide suggestions if you’ve hit a brick wall with your own research.

Click here to send me a message. I can either reply with a link to a Fiverr gig or we can work something out directly. My rates are super reasonable…unless you expect me to leave the house. That obviously costs extra.

DAR Pin Police

Travel recovery is a real problem, people. I returned from DC nearly two weeks ago and I’m still tired. And I’m not sure how this works but I had to fly three time zones away to encounter strangers who would be nice to me. If you don’t know, people in Tucson will just let a door slam right in your face. They won’t even give you an “Ope!” for good measure.

I was technically in town for Daughters of the American Revolution’s annual Continental Congress. But I was really there to do tourist stuff, a little genealogy research, eat some great food, and dress up for evening performances at Constitution Hall.

“The President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra at Constitution Hall

I didn’t attend one DAR business session while I was there. It’s not like I know (or care) what’s going on with the business end of DAR anyway.

World War II Memorial with Washington Monument in the background

I looked at a lot of pretty things/places and went about my own business.

DAR Memorial Continental Hall

I walked everywhere. As in LITERALLY EVERYWHERE. And because I had “The Stars and Stripes Forever” playing on an endless loop in my head, I just marched along to the beat until I saw everything I intended to see.

My cousin’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Most of the daughters I encountered were extremely sweet. I met several who have lived in the same places I’ve lived and know the same people I know. There was one woman, however, who fancied herself the Chief of the Pin Police. She interrogated me in a ladies room at the Grand Hyatt about whether or not I was wearing pins. So DAR is kind of like Girl Scouts only with pins instead of badges. And there are rules and protocols to follow should one decide to wear one’s pins. I was not wearing any pins, only my Congress name tag and ribbon designating me as a first-time Congress attendee. I was washing my hands and she was on my left. She asked me if I was wearing my pins and when I told her I wasn’t, she literally made me turn so she could see the right side of my chest. No pins!

To her credit, she curtly thanked me for proving I wasn’t violating any protocols. To my credit, I managed to keep my filthy mouth shut until I exited the restroom and said, “What a bitch.” Then I went to the hotel bar. Honestly, encounters like that are the reason people think DAR members are a bunch of uptight bitches. I really didn’t get much out of the whole DAR experience and am not sure I would go again unless I have other tourist items to check off my list. It was not easy as a new member to understand the expectations or protocols.

Pin Police aside, it was a great trip and I’m glad I went. It was probably for the best that I went alone. I can’t imagine making anyone else walk all the way to Arlington and back. My feet may never forgive me. Next stop, Mexico.

Ancestry and Alcohol

I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve become borderline obsessed with genealogy. When I’m not at work, I’m drinking beer and doing yoga/pilates or drinking beer and working on my family tree. In case you didn’t know, consuming alcohol and engaging in physical exercise go together like peanut butter and jelly. The genealogy is kind of like the ice cream reward at the end.

So in the midst of this Mayflower drama, I have learned some things:

  • If you are unable to find what you need at the state level, contact the county. There are many counties with historical records which predate those kept on file at the state level. If you’re searching in New York, be aware of County Historians and don’t be shy about contacting them. Even if they won’t do the search for you, they can at least tell you where to look or suggest a paid researcher.
  • Historical societies vary greatly by location. Some cover too much area and are too overwhelmed to help you with searching. Others have volunteer researchers who will go to the courthouse for you and dig up your records for a nominal fee. I just had one in Pennsylvania find a missing link death certificate for me that includes 8 pages of information for a whopping $17.40. That’s cheaper than ordering an official document from Kansas through VitalChek.
  • You might have to send letters and mail checks like it’s 1985. Calm down; You’ll survive.
  • History doesn’t happen in a straight line. My family tree keeps circling back on itself. I have to figure out how to make Ancestry understand my third great-uncle is also my third great-grandfather. Same guy. Small gene pool. Work with me here.
  • History is a whole lot more real when you’re looking at it in the context of your family. Yesterday, I worked on a second cousin thrice removed who worked for the Department of the Treasury in the years leading up to World War I. Those were some interesting times for the US economy. I have a bunch of cousins who are buried at Arlington. With 2,500 people in my family tree (and counting), I intend to rediscover who they were and visit at least some of them while I’m in DC this summer.

My brain feels like I worked all weekend, mainly because I did. I’m tired, confused, frustrated, and utterly addicted. In a couple weeks, I will be hanging out with a few thousand lunatics just like me and can hardly wait.

Mayflower Whac-a-Mole

I’ve had some dumb ideas in my life but this one is extra special. In case you’ve been busy living your life, you should just be aware that next year is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing in Plymouth. Once I learned that three of my 11th great-grandfathers were passengers, I decided there must be a society for that.

Spoiler alert: There is, in fact, a society for that. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants exists (from what I can tell) to prevent legitimate descendants from joining their ultra-exclusive club. To say their documentation requirements are stringent is quite possibly the understatement of the year.

I thought I chose the easiest of the three lines to document for membership. I’m still not sure if that is correct but it seemed pretty straightforward at the time. I have found official records to support each generation but in some cases, they aren’t the right official records. I mean, I may have proven a connection to a [First and Last Name] but I haven’t proven that person is my [First and Last Name].

What makes this even more difficult is this particular line wasn’t full of Quakers. Those of you with Quaker ancestors know where I’m going with this. They documented EVERYTHING. I have tons of meeting records showing when my people finally got tired of the rule requiring them to marry within the church and decided to bounce. Quaker meeting records are amazing.

So I have established a committed relationship with VitalChek and they now know more about me than Amazon and Google combined. I’m getting pretty good at remembering which states began keeping official vital statistics records in which years. (You’re KILLING ME, New York.) When I got home from work yesterday, I was all excited that I received two more death certificates in the mail. Dear God, what is happening to me?

But here’s the problem: Every time I send them one certificate, they ask for two more. Every answer raises five more questions or life choices which must be documented. I don’t care how many times my 5th great-grandfather remarried after being widowed. But they care. Deeply. And they’re driving me to drink. Heavily. I don’t know why I can’t just send them my raw DNA data and let them figure it out.

I seriously don’t know if I will be able to have an active membership prior to September of 2020 but I’m going to Plymouth anyway. Mayflower II will be in port and I will spend all of the dollars to be part of that celebration. This is what getting old looks like.

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